Though Joel Richeimer entered UCLA as a mathematics major, he quickly moved to theoretical sociology. At UCLA, he studied with Harold Garfinkel, the founder of ethnomethodology: the sociological study of how ordinary people produce knowledge, how some ideas get so taken for granted that they become background and difficult, if not impossible, to see. Ethnomethodology led to a host of philosophical problems. Ultimately, if taken seriously, it undermined all research in any field, including itself.

Coming to the conclusion that ethnomethodology and academia were both dead-ends, Richeimer spent the next eleven years traveling and working in France, Britain, Israel, Japan and the United States, in restaurants, corporations, a factory and on two different communes.

Once Richeimer began to examine how theories are constructed, which is part of the philosophy of science, he saw the possibility of a solution to the philosophical problems generated by ethnomethodology. Also he began to understand that the structural errors found in ethnomethodology were not limited to that particular type of research. The same structure appeared in a number of popular philosophical movements, including logical positivism, phenomenology, reflexive sociology, the work of Thomas Kuhn, etc.

After getting a second bachelor's degree in philosophy at UC Berkeley, he went to the University of Michigan for graduate work. His dissertation was an outgrowth of these reflections. In particular, his dissertation focused on a particular case, namely, the widely held view that perception is underdetermined by the stimulus, the popular belief that the same event can generate different perceptions in different people. His dissertation attempts to show how that claim is an artifact of how experiments are designed and discussed. The underdetermination claim is not actually a scientific finding but imposed on the science by widely assumed and problematic theory. 

Richeimer came to Kenyon in 1992, and while the focus of his research has been in philosophy of perception, he teaches a wide range of courses including Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Film, Epistemology, Ancient Philosophy, Aristotle, Philosophy of Mathematics, Symbolic Logic and Pragmatism.

Areas of Expertise

Philosophy of perception, philosophy of science, epistemology, ancient philosophy.


1992 — Master of Arts from Univ Michigan Ann Arbor

1992 — Doctor of Philosophy from Univ Michigan Ann Arbor

1973 — Bachelor of Arts from Univ of California Los Angeles

Courses Recently Taught

This introductory course will explore a range of topics and issues in the study of neuroscience. Specifically, the course will focus on the relationship between neuroscience, the arts and humanities. The course will treat the humanities and sciences as partners working together on the same problems. Usually, three topics are covered per semester. Examples of topics covered include the neuroscience of emotions, play behavior, film, visual and artistic perspective, space and time. Other topics may be covered. Assignments will include weekly quizzes, class discussion and a thesis paper. This is a non-majors introductory course geared towards first-year and sophomore students, although others may take it. This course is repeatable for credit one time. This course paired with any neuroscience course counts toward the natural science diversification requirement.

The primary aim of this course is to acquaint the student with the spirit, methods and problems of philosophy. Students will explore the range of issues in which philosophical inquiry is possible and to which it is relevant. Major works of important philosophers, both ancient and modern, will be used to introduce topics in metaphysics, theory of knowledge, ethics and other traditional areas of philosophical concern. No prerequisite. Offered every semester.

The central question in ethics is "How should I live my life?" This course explores this question by examining major ethical traditions such as honor ethics, Stoicism, Aristotelian virtue ethics, sentimentalism, utilitarianism, Kant's practical philosophy, Nietzsche's critique of morality, Buddhist ethics and feminist ethics. The emphasis is on classical texts, as well as their connections with our contemporary life. This course is suitable for first-year students. This counts toward the ethics requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

This course examines the experience of looking at art and images. For instance, how is looking at a painting different from looking at a photograph or watching a film or, for that matter, just looking at the world? What is the role of art and images in our lives? Does it change how we see? Does it replace how we naturally see? Classic works by Gombrich, Panofsky, Arnheim and others address the topic. This seminar focuses on careful reading, short papers and oral presentations. It is restricted to first-year students and counts toward the epistemology requirement for the major.

There are many different ways to get someone to do what you want. These include threatening violence, lying, conditioning, bribery, begging and providing an argument. An "argument" (in logic) is an appeal to evidence in the support of a conclusion. (It should not be confused with the ordinary usage of the term "argument," which means quarrel.) An argument &emdash; unlike the other methods of persuasion &emdash; is an appeal to what is rational in the person to whom one is speaking. It is the only method that respects the other person's ability to think. An argument does this in two ways. First, an argument is an attempt to show that the evidence supports the conclusion. Second, an argument is the only method that invites the other person to assess whether the evidence in fact does support the conclusion. An argument invites a conversation. Logic is the study of what makes some arguments successful and some not. We will develop a procedure for assessing whether an argument is good (i.e., valid). We will examine the uses and the limits of this method. This counts toward the logic requirement for the major and minor. No prerequisite. Offered every year.

Pragmatism is the only major philosophical tradition on the world stage originating in the United States. And it is the only tradition of philosophy since Kant that is respected and taken seriously in both the Anglo-American philosophical tradition and the continental philosophical tradition. Many movements claim their origins in American pragmatism — these include verificationism, Husserlian phenomenology, Quinean naturalism, and some trends in postmodernism, cybernetics, vagueness logic, semiotics, the dominant trend in American educational philosophy, Italian fascism, American experimental psychology and Gandhi's philosophy of nonviolence. We will examine that tradition by reading the major works of Peirce, James, Dewey and their critics. This counts toward the philosophical schools and periods requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every third year.

Mentality is not like much else in the universe. Mentality (or mind) is quite peculiar. The human brain (unlike other physical things) has the power to think. We have thoughts. Yet what are thoughts? Thoughts don't seem to be physical. For instance, unlike physical objects, thoughts don't have any weight. One does not gain weight by having new thoughts or lose weight by forgetting them. Unlike physical objects, thoughts have no shape. The thought of a circle is not circular. Yet thoughts have power. When we explain human behavior, we do so by saying that the person has certain thoughts; i.e., they have certain beliefs and certain desires. Those beliefs and desires (those thoughts) caused the person to act the way he did. The view that there are thoughts, that thoughts are in minds, that thoughts cause behavior, is the ordinary everyday view of the world. It is called folk psychology (i.e., the psychology of ordinary folk). Folk psychology seems obviously true. But is it true? And if it is true, can we describe it in a clear way? Does contemporary research in psychology support or undermine folk psychology? We will see that what seems so obvious is in fact quite controversial. Many psychologists and philosophers think something is wrong with folk psychology. We will examine some of those debates. This counts toward the metaphysics requirement for the major. No prerequisite. Offered every third year.

We all depend on perception to live our lives. It is so much part of our lives that it is taken for granted and seems not worth noticing. Yet perception is not well understood. When one examines the differences in perception among humans, what one takes for granted becomes problematic. When one includes animal perception and robotic perception, perception becomes mysterious. We will examine various ways of understanding perception: biological, computational, ecological, cultural and rational. In so doing, we hope to gain some insight into a process that makes up much of our lives and provides the basis for much of what we know. This counts toward the epistemology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: sophomore standing. Offered every third year.

The two most important philosophers in post-World War II France were Jean-Paul Sartre and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. They initiated a debate that was and still is immensely influential both in and out of academia. Sartre worked out the implications of a consciousness-centered methodological individualism. The result was a new analysis of human freedom that equated freedom with "consciousness-raising." This had a tremendous influence on the political left, feminist thought, existentialism, postmodernism and many forms of psychotherapy. Merleau-Ponty challenged Sartre’s mind’s-eye view with a brain-body’s eye view of human behavior. Such a view replaced consciousness as guiding human behavior with an account of how any embodied functional system can self-adapt to its environment. Merleau-Ponty's account was not limited to human behavior but was generalizable to a range of self-maintaining systems. Merleau-Ponty explored this primarily in terms of the psychology of perception, in neuroscience and in an analysis of film as a psychological phenomenon. This counts toward the great thinkers requirement for the major. Prerequisite: one philosophy course or permission of instructor.

This is an advanced course on the central debates in epistemology: internalism versus externalism, foundationalism versus coherentism, naturalism versus antinaturalism. We examine these issues through the writings of Quine, Rorty, Putnam, Stroud, Dretske, Wittgenstein and others. This counts toward the epistemology requirement for the major. Prerequisite: philosophy major and junior standing or permission of instructor. Offered in a three-year rotation with PHIL 400 and 410.

Individual studies are offered to those students who are highly motivated in a specific area of inquiry and who are judged responsible and capable enough to work independently. Such courses might be research oriented, but more usually are readings-oriented, allowing students to delve in greater depth into topics that interest them or which overlap or supplement other courses of the philosophy department. Students must seek permission of the instructor and department chair before enrolling. They are urged to do this in the semester prior to the one in which they hope to be enrolled. Individual study is at the discretion of the instructor, and schedules may limit such an addition. An individual study cannot duplicate a course or area being concurrently offered. Exceptions to this rule are at the discretion of the instructor and chair. Individual study is usually considered an advanced course. Required work should be viewed as on a par with a seminar or a 300- or 400-level course. The instructor and student(s) should establish and agree upon the extent and nature of the work expected. The work may take one of the following forms: several short papers, one long paper, one in-depth project, a lengthy general outline and annotated bibliography, public presentation(s), etc. An individual study can apply to the major or to the minor with permission of the department. Individual studies may be taken for either 0.25 or 0.50 credits. This decision must be agreed upon with the instructor. The student(s) and instructor will meet on a regular basis. The frequency of contact hours is to be determined by the instructor in consultation with the student. Because students must enroll for individual studies by the end of the seventh class day of each semester, they should begin discussion of the proposed individual study preferably the semester before, so that there is time to devise the proposal and seek departmental approval before the established deadline.\n